News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 28, 2013

‘Far-sound’ rings in a new era

Linda Patrick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This week’s Historic Treasure is an invention that changed life, as we know it in a great way, the telephone. It revolutionized human communication. It is also an invention that can be claimed by more than one person, but only a few actually completed the process.

The word “telephone” may come from two Greek words, “tele” meaning “far,” and “phone” meaning “sound.” Johann Philipp Reis, a German scientist, was the first to come up with the idea of the transmission of sound through electricity. He built a device that could transmit sound, the Reis Telephone, but didn’t develop it any further.

Antonio Meucci, an Italian scientist, also made an early model of the telephone and demonstrated it in Havana. He even filed for a patent for it, but he wasn’t really a businessman and failed to commercialize his model.

Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both developed working models of the telephone. Bell worked tirelessly with his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, to build an apparatus that would transmit sound. Finally, on March 10, 1876, he uttered the first words spoken through a telephone, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” These famous words mark this as the official date of the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell.

As mentioned earlier, Elisha Gray also invented a working model of the telephone. He and Bell even filed for patents on the same day, Feb. 14, 1876, within a couple of hours of each other, Gray first then Bell. However, by March 7, 1876 Gray failed to turn his caveat into a patent application, and so patent #174,465 is granted to Bell.

Bell went on to form the Bell Telephone Company, now A.T.&T, in 1877. In the first month of operation, only six telephones were sold. It went on to become the largest phone company in the world.

Here are some other interesting dates concerning the telephone:

n In October 1876 the first long distance phone call is made between Cambridge, Mass., and Boston.

n In 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House. His first call was to Alexander Graham Bell, who was waiting 13 miles away. The President’s first words were said to have been, “Please speak more slowly.”

n In February of 1880 Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter invented the radiophone or photo phone, a device that transmitted sounds through a beam of light. Bell made his first wireless telephone call in April 1880.

n In 1915 a call is made from San Francisco and New York City, the longest call made in the US. (From one coast to the other).

The telephone shown above is a Kellogg crank style telephone, possibly a model 2884. It was built by the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company. This company, founded by Milo Gifford Kellogg in Chicago in 1897, supplied a full range of telephones and parts to independent small phone services. Kellogg’s Company provided the most serious competition to the Bell/Western Electric Empire. This phone now hangs on the wall of our Country Store Display in the lower level of the museum. Unfortunately we have no documentation of who donated this treasure to the museum. Why not bring your cell phone in and take a picture of its early ancestor.

Historical Treasure

• The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through